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Myth / Lilith

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Lilith, an 1887 painting by John Collier

Lilith is a figure associated with Jewish and early Christian folklore, and is said to be the very incarnation of Lust. There are multiple possible origin stories for Lilith's own character, but one of the most popular stories seems to be that she was the first wife of Adam. While God fashioned Adam out of dirt, Lilith was said to be made from mire which made her especially fertile. The story goes on to suggest that she refused to be subservient to Adam because (as Lilith saw it) she was created of the same earth that Adam was — and was thus equal with him. When God denied this she proceeded to kill her and Adam's children. This got Lilith kicked out of the Garden of Eden, so she turned to The Dark Side and went on to give birth to countless numbers of demons with Asmodeus.

In case you're wondering, this is not grounded in Jewish or Biblical canon in any way (except, and only except, for two items: (1) God is mentioned creating the first Woman twice, although the common interpretation is that the second is a more detailed retelling of the same eventnote , and (2) A "lilith" or "lilit" is mentioned in a list of beasts in Isaiah 34:14 — and, given that the other creatures mentioned in that line are wolves and goats, most scholars are pretty sure Isaiah was discussing screech owls). The earliest known story of Lilith as we know her today comes from the Alphabet of Sirach, a book of proverbs dated around the 8th century AD which might even be actually a satiric work in the first place. However, in an ancient and rather surprising example of Ascended Fanon, she became an incredibly popular figure in the Judeo-Christian theology of its time, and ended up exerting enough influence on it to become a usual fixture in Kabbalistic treatises and from there to modern occultism, often paired with Samael as a counterpart to Adam and Eve.

While the Lilith from the Sirach was possibly a reference to Lilu or Lilitu, a baby-eating demon race from Sumerian Mythology, this was all forgotten once she was established as Biblical Fanon in the Middle Ages. Later, in the High Middle Ages and Renaissance, she was often identified with the Serpent of Eden, which is why, for instance, the "Temptation Scene" painted by Michelangelo in the Sixtine Chapel shows the serpent as a sort of snaky mermaid, handing the apple to Eve. Dante Gabriel Rossetti used this as the inspirations for his poem "Eden Bower," in which we see Lilith plotting to transform herself back into a serpentnote  and spoil Eden. Originally, however, she was simply a predator demoness and mother of other demons.

Lilith has featured rather extensively in pop culture. Considering the legend about her relationship with Adam was written in about the 9th century A.D., Values Dissonance is definitely in play in regard to that particular bit of lore. Whether or not her turn towards evil was due to this varies from one interpretation to another.

Lilith provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Around 12th century, with the Kabbalah accepting Lilith as part of God's system, she stopped being an enemy in the vein of Lucifer and instead became a sort of divine attack dog, intentionally created by God as evil along with Samael as a negative counterpart to Adam and Eve. She remains wicked and harmful to humanity, but now as part of God's designs.
    • More recently, the child-murderer part or her story is typically excised whenever Lilith is portrayed positively in media. The sleep-rapist role tends to be downplayed as well, or at least tweaked into more conventional seduction of men.
  • Animal Motifs: Lilith was originally associated with owls. She later became associated with snakes due to syncretism with the Serpent in the Garden of Eden; nowadays, expect more reptilian than avian Liliths.
  • Anti-Villain: Some see her this way, especially in modern times. Being forced to unfairly submit to one who should reasonably be seen as an equal generally tends to help your case, as does the fact that what she did "wrong" is nowadays considered to be a virtue (i.e. choosing freedom over being a slave).
  • Characterization Marches On: Lilith first popped up as a kind of Sumerian demon(s), later developed as a creature of the desert, and finally underwent a critical story change in the Middle Ages, invoking her as the first wife of Adam (that particular text might have been satirical, with jokes and references to masturbation, but it was taken seriously by both Christian and Jewish scholars later on). Kabbalistic works then went further and proclaimed that Lilith and the wicked angel Samael were created as a sort of mystical Evil Counterpart to Eve and Adam. Nice progression, huh?
  • Child Eater: Lilith’s habit in ancient times. In the later versions she merely causes disease in his children and their children should they survive.
  • Composite Character:
    • Her character and role are a melting pot of influences. She clearly takes after the lilu (also called lil, lili and lilitu) from Akkadian mythology, demons related to illness, night and owls, but also has common elements with Inanna, the Sumerian major goddess of sex and war (to the point the famous avian demoness from the Burney Relief was always believed to be Lilith, before academia decided it was actually Inanna). She might also be inspired by Az and Jahi, similar figures from Zoroastrianism. Combine all that with the mysterious Biblical first woman mentioned above, as well as the Babylonian Talmud's passage where accidentally emitted semen from Adam is said to give birth to demons, and you will get Lilith as we know her today.
    • Back when lilitu was an entire race of Mesopotamian demons, there was a mysterious entity named Bagdana, apparently a male, who was effectively their king and ruler. Later traditions, when speaking about succubi as a kind, generally have Lilith herself as their queen instead, or at least all of them being underlings of Samael.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Her origin story has God and Adam effectively creating the first succubus by handing Lilith the short end of the stick.
  • The Dark Side: Her character arc in Eden, apparently. However, according to the Kabbalah, Samael and Lilith are literally this in comparison to Adam and Eve.
  • Decomposite Character: Kabbalistic treaties often treat Lilith's incompatible traditions as being actually separate beings. For instance, regarding the traditions that put her as the wife of either Samael or Asmodeus, they postulate that there is actually a first Lilith (Lilith Savta) who married the former and a younger, different one (Lilith Ulemta, sometimes expanding that her true identity is Mehetabel, a Half-Human Hybrid of the devil Qfasefoni and the human Matred) who married the latter. Those stories sometimes add a son to Asmodeus and Mehetabel named Alfpunias, and portray Samael as lusting after the younger of the two.
  • Demon Lords and Archdevils: Often, the more modern the story is, the more likely she is to be one of the top dogs. When the demon lords are associated each with a deadly sin, she will usually be the one representing lust.
  • Depending on the Writer: Lilith is a pretty flexible storytelling tool, and has been variously portrayed as a Child Eater, a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, an Anti-Villain, an Anti-Hero, a fully-heroic feminist icon, and everything in between.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Recorded as sleeping with men... and Eve, apparently.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: The Zohar says anyone raped by Lilith or any of the other three demon queens only has themselves to blame because they could only be overcome if they were too sinful. Lilith needed help from Naamah to overtake Adam at least but was able to take Cain by herself.
  • Exotic Equipment: Some versions have her wearing her genitals on the forehead. (Obvious Hurricane of Puns left to the reader.)
  • The Fair Folk: According to one of many versions, these were her children.
  • Four Is Death: Some works of the Kabbalah have Lilith as one of Samael's four demon queens, along with Naamah, Eisheth and Agrat.
  • A Kind of One:
    • On Babylonian incantation bowls, lilith were a group of malevolent spiritual creatures, mentioned alongside hags and ghouls. Specifically, lilith were the servants of the demon king Bagdana and could be male or female.
    • The Mandean Ginza Rba also refers to liliths, which fell down and did not arise, as a group. They are listed alongside amulet-spirits, idol-spirits, shedim, devils and thieves.
  • Mesopotamian Monstrosity: If Lilith is based on the ancient stories of the lilitu, this is an unusual medieval instance of the trope.
  • Mirror World: The Kabbalistic work Treatise on the Left Emanation has Lilith and Samael as counterparts to Adam and Eve, only in the spiritual realm rather than the physical one. After Samael and Lilith end up sinning against God and are banished from a kind of paradise, they engineer the temptation of Adam and Eve so they will suffer the same fate.
  • Monster Progenitor: Of the demonic lilim.
  • Mother of a Thousand Young: Apparently Lilith is capable of producing enough milk to feed a hundred baby demons per day. How she finds the time to seduce and rape mortals AND nurse a hundred baby demons is never explained.
  • Multiple-Choice Past:
    • Some Kabbalistic texts cannot decide if Lilith started as Adam's wife or was a demon all along that came to Adam at night (her name is related to the Hebrew word for night) and preyed sexually on him to give birth to demons. The existence of this kind of succubus progenitors predates the "Lilith, Adam's wife" legend altogether and might have served as an inspiration for Lilith.
    • Lilith is counted in the Zohar as one of the four angels of prostitution, that is, Samael's demon queens. This seems to imply she is a spirit and not a woman-turned-devil in this version, although some have interpreted she might retain her human origin while the other three are straight spirits. The author of the Zohar, Moses de Leon, was aware of her contradictory origin stories and included two of them.
    • As a consequence of those inconsistencies, some works downright state there are two different Liliths, one being created along with Samael as mentioned above and the other being a Half-Human Hybrid married to Asmodeus.
  • Original Man: An odd case, being the original half of the species but legends suggesting she was Adam's first wife suggest the differences between men and women were originally much more pronounced than they are now.
  • Our Demons Are Different: In this case, she was possibly the first woman before going bad.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Lilith may be the inspiration for some mermaid stories, such as that of the French mermaid Melusine.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Some versions have depicted her as a vampire rather than a demon, as she embodies many of their classical qualities: unholy, nightly, sexually charged and in need for something from people's bodies.
  • Owl Be Damned: Lilith is associated with owls as well as snakes, due to the word's use in the Biblical canon.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Originally Adam's first wife, but turned evil afterwards.
  • Psycho Prototype: She can be considered a failed prototype of Eve, if one believes that women are "supposed to be" subservient to men and rebelling against that is "wrong" somehow.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Zohar states Lilith is one of Samael's four wives, who are fallen angels who prostitute themselves. They are not above forcing themselves on unwilling men and every successful child they bear with a mortal becomes a new plague against mankind.
  • Snakes Are Sexy: Due to her identification both with sexuality and the Serpent of Eden, and her seduction of both Adam and Eve.
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: The goal of Lilith and her succubi. Kabbalah portrays Lilith and Naamah stalking Adam after the first's desertion and seducing him to bear demons and evil spirits, being implied that this was done in order to increase their power.
  • Straw Feminist: Whenever modern works portray her as evil, she usually receives this characterization, being defined not by refusing to be subservient to Adam, but becoming a predator demon afterwards.
  • Succubi and Incubi: Widely considered to be one of the very first succubi, if not the first.
  • Toilet Seat Divorce: In at least one account, Adam has her kicked out of the garden because she wanted to be on top while they had sex. Most other accounts, though, say she was the one who decided to leave.
  • Unholy Matrimony: According to some versions of the legend, she's the favorite wife of Satan (who, naturally, not only doesn't mind her sleeping with mortals, but actually encourages her to do so). If it is not the Big Red himself, Asmodeus or Samael replace him.
  • Woman Scorned: Versions often portray her as being disappointed by Adam's authoritarism in this specifical way. Several Jewish texts have Lilith returning to Adam after their breakup and seducing him, although it is unclear if this is done for the act itself or only in order to conceive demons.